What may sound like the end of a timely joke, the coined term 'flurona' is actually not something experts say to take lightly. The combination of Covid-19 and influenza is becoming more prevalent, especially as the omicron variant is spreading breakthrough cases, medical experts tell NBC New York.
The name says it all: flurona is the unlucky term for a patient who is simultaneously sick with both COVID-19 and influenza.
Earlier this week Israel reported its first case of flurona in an unvaccinated pregnant woman with mild symptoms. Los Angeles County reported its first known case of flurona, a child who tested positive for both influenza and coronavirus after returning from a trip to Mexico.
New York City allergist and immunologist Dr. Purvi Parikh works at Allergy and Asthma Network and is a Clinical Instructor of Medicine and Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and warns residents should take extra measures this season as she has already observed cases of flurona over the past months.
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Parikh says residents have not been as proactive in continuing certain COVID safety protocols, such as masking and social distancing.
The Centers for Disease Control states that seasonal influenza activity is increasing nationwide, including hospitalizations, particularly in the eastern and central regions.
The majority of detected cases is the strain influenza A (H3N2). Most patients with the flu are children and young adults ages 5 to 24, but an increasing number of adults 25 and over are coming down with the virus.
Photos: ‘Flurona': NYC Expert Warns of Covid & Flu Amid Omicron Surge
What Are The Symptoms?
Experts say it can be difficult to discern symptoms between the flu and COVID-19.
Fever, congestion, headache, change in taste or smell, cough, body aches, sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue are all symptoms commonly related to both viruses. Depending on the individual, infections can vary from mild to severe.
Because symptoms of the flu, coronavirus, and other respiratory illness are similar, the difference among viruses cannot be determined by that alone. Testing is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
The CDC states for both COVID-19 and flu, one or more days can pass between when a person becomes infected and when he or she starts experiencing symptoms.
One difference is that if one only has COVID-19, it may take them longer to become symptomatic than if they had the flu.
Can You Feel More Intense Symptoms If You Have Flurona?
Parikh says it is possible to experience more severe symptoms if infected with both COVID-19 and influenza. However, most of the reported cases have been on the mild side.
Patients who are immunocompromised or have certain pre-existing conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and obesity, are at higher risk for more intense symptoms and consequences.
In those cases, the immune system is working twice as hard to fight off both infections of COVID-19 and flu.
Dr. Jeffrey Shaman is a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. In his research, his group has conducted studies of multiple infections, documenting symptom severity.
"We generally didn't see, for combinations of common respiratory viruses people infected by two or more, that they were particularly manifesting with more severe symptoms, to be perfectly honest. We will have to see, though, with the flu and coronavirus," Dr. Shaman said.
What Treatment is Recommended?
Generally, the first line in treatment is called supportive care, which incorporates rest, hydration, and over-the-counter pain relievers.
For high-risk patients, doctors may opt to treat with an antiviral, such as Tamiflu for certain influenza strains. Covid antivirals are also utilized under emergency use approval. Dr. Parikh suggests physicians may start prescribing both antivirals at once but can be tricky due to drug-to-drug interaction.
The gold standard is to get tested for both influenza and COVID-19, especially if the patient is immunocompromised so that higher-risk individuals can start early treatment options.
If someone has mild symptoms, experts say it is best to isolate at home to prevent further spread.
Both the flu and Covid-19 vaccinations are recommended in preventing infection, particularly as the flu season is expected to possibly last until this June. The probability of contracting flurona is higher for those unvaccinated for both viruses.